Frémont’s Report

“Much more widely read [than Hastings’ guide], Fremont’s was a much better book. It knew what it was talking about, and when Bill Bowen read that, there was wood or water in a given place, or good soil, or difficult travel, he could count on it. The myth of the Great American Desert went down before this literary man’s examination – and before his vision (like his father-in-law’s) of cities rising in wasteland and the emptiness filling with fat farms. It was filled with solid facts that solid minds could use: it told about the winds, the water, the timber, the soil, the weather. It was extraordinarily seeing and intuitive,  remarkably accurate.nIn the book he wrote, Frémont deserves well of the Republic.

“But the book had a much greater importance than this: it fed desire. The wilderness which was so close to Fremont’s heart that he has dignity only when he is traveling it was the core of the nation’s oldest dream. Kit Carson, Tom Fitzpatrick, Alexis Godey, Basil Lajeunesse, his mountain men, were this generation’s embodiment of a wish that ran back beyond Daniel Boone, beyond Jonathan Carver, beyond Christopher Gist, innumerable men in buckskins, forest runners, long hunters, rivermen, gens du nord, the company of gentlemen and adventurers of the far side of the hill. Something older than Myles Standish or Captain John Smith fluttered a reader’s pulse when the mountain men worked their prodigies before Frémont’s admiring eyes. It responded to his exaltation when, pounding his rifle on the saddle to seat a fresh load, he charged through dust clouds at the snorting buffalo. It quickened when he reached the highest peak of the Wind River divide and there pressed between leaves of his notebook a honey bee that was making westward. He went on – across deserts, through untrodden gulches, up slopes of aspen, over the saddle, along the ridge, down the far side. He smelled sagebrush at dawn, he smelled rivers in the evening– alkali in sun-hardened earth when a shower had passed, pines when the pollen fell, roses and sweet peas and larkspur, carrion, sulphur, the coming storm, greasewood, buffalo dung in the smoke of campfires. He saw the Western country with eager eyes – saw it under sun, bent and swollen by mirage, stark, terrible, beautiful to the heart’s longing, snow on the peaks, infinite green and the night stars.”